So many New Yorkers have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic that the state has paid out more than $7.4 billion in unemployment benefits since March — more than three times what it paid during all of 2019.
The payments have gone to 1.7 million workers, and the number of state residents needing help continues to rise.
Nearly 27,700 Long Islanders filed new jobless claims last week, up slightly from 26,585 the previous week but down from a one-week peak of 59,536 hit in mid-April.
Over the past eight weeks, more than 287,000 Long Islanders — roughly a fifth of all working residents — filed for unemployment.
Statewide, more than 2 million New Yorkers have filed for aid since the health crisis began.
The state Department of Labor payments include traditional state unemployment insurance, federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for gig workers and others who are self-employed, and an additional $600 a week in federal aid for each recipient.
The PUA benefits, which so far cover 330,000 New Yorkers not traditionally covered by unemployment insurance, and the extra $600 were both mandated under the federal CARES Act. The total of state and federal aid dwarfs the $2.1 billion in state jobless benefits paid out last year.
Despite the claims paid, the unprecedented volume of applications has resulted in a long-running backlog that continues to prevent many from getting money when they most urgently need it.
“It is truly disappointing two months into the COVID-19 pandemic — calls continue to flood offices from desperate New Yorkers who have not received any assistance and who can no longer put food on the table,” state Senate Minority Leader John J. Flanagan (R-East Northport) said in a statement Wednesday.
"We know New Yorkers are struggling, and we know they need support now, and we are working day and night to get money into more New Yorkers’ hands faster," Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon said in a statement Wednesday.
The department has enacted a number of changes to deal with the historic demand for aid.
They include an updated online application process, increased call center personnel, and the change to a "don't call us, we'll call you" process meant to prevent the overrunning of phone lines.
This week, the DOL began sending out emails and texts to New Yorkers with pending claims to let them know where they are in the process.
Despite the changes, many New Yorkers say they have been waiting nearly two months for DOL to complete their claims and send them funds.
John A. Rizzo, chief economist for the Long Island Association business group, said despite this week's slight uptick in new jobless claims, the general trend points to a decline.
"An uptick doesn’t make a trend," he said. Pointing toward encouraging updates on the health care front of the crisis, Rizzo said it's likely those new claims will slow in the coming weeks.
“Of course, there’s going to be some fluctuations," Rizzo said, but "the overall trend is downward."
Richard Vogel, dean of the school of business and professor of economics at Farmingdale State College, said that as the crises has continued and May 15th approached — the end date of the governor's current "PAUSE" directive — “firms that may have slowed down in terms of letting their employees go suddenly looked around and said this doesn’t seem like its ending until sometime in mid-June."
“Long Island still hasn’t hit its marks yet and we’re so closely tied to the metro area that not only does Long Island have to hit its target numbers, New York City needs to hit its target number before there will be a relaxation," he said.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story included an incorrect title for Senate Minority Leader John J. Flanagan.
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